As mobile phones becomes cheap and accessible by most people in society, it has become the most preferred mode of communication for many. However, the question of how mobile phones can add real value to the student’s learning experience becomes a concern for many .The varied components needed to ensure an appropriate educational design was the main focus of discussion in this session .Applications to new devices and the better use of existing tools were shown during this session. The session was chaired by Richard Niyonkuru,M & E Advisor for ICT ,Ministry of Education ,Rwanda.
John Traxler ,Learning Lab ,UK gave the first presentation entitled Learning with ‘Appropriate ‘Technology: PC Labs or Mobile Phones . In his presentation, the speaker stated that It is important and urgent to debate and discuss the issue of ‘development’ in relation to e-learning and the issue of ‘appropriate’ technology in relation to e-learning, and especially to debate and discuss these issues in relation to each other. One specific reason for this debate and discussion is that we need much greater clarity about the perceived tension between those e-learning strategies based on near-universal ownership of mobile devices amongst potential learners on the one hand and those e-learning strategies based expensive large-scale installations of static institutional networked desktop computers on the other. This discussion is also important because it is also a discussion about the balance between the individual and the institution, the community and the corporate, the bottom-up and the top-down and it is vitally important to the issue of sustainability.
In his presentation , he emphasized that the social and economic status of a community or the target should always be considered in the design of training , development of software and selection of technologies that are appropriate to deliver the training . He said that mostly the training is designed in terms of software and hardware for developed countries and is adopted without an adjustment and expected to be applied to developing countries without re-considering the mode of delivery that would fit the technologies affordable by the target and or without a proper deployment of the necessary technologies and cultural consideration of a particular target .Therefore, there have to be appropriateness , and sustainability in the design of these systems to ensure the intended benefit is achieved.
The second speaker was Paul Birevu Muyinda ,Makerere University ,Uganda with a presentation entitled A model for mobile learning adoption and implementation in Africa (MLAIMA).
In his presentation, Mr.Munyinda, stated that handheld devices and internet are presenting unlimited possibilities, in Africa handheld devices such as mobile phones are more pervasive than PCs.He further stated that Africa has 5.4/100 PC internet users as compared to 28.49/100 mobile cellular subscribers (ITU,2007).Mobile phones are supplementing PCs in many ways, more so , eLearning is being supplemented by mLearning . He said that M-learning allows access and learning at anytime and at any place and is expected to have a rapid growth in African institutions . Mr.Munyinda stated that the statistics are good for M-learning to take place but there is limited understanding on how to adopt and implement it.
Mr.Munyinda said that the concern of what are key issues for African countries to adopt and implement M-learning animated their need to conduct a research and come up with a model for the implementation of mobile learning in Africa . Some of the results of the research that he stated are that , M-learning can provide ubiquitous student support especially to distance learners with limited or no conventional learning .He further stated that as eLearning facilities can not be used as a stand alone , supplement conventional ,distance learning models . However , eLearning as well as mLearning are not understood by many and therefore raising a need for mindset orientation , re-engineering conventional E-learning practices , fully integrate the use of mobile phones in learning while advocating for and building awareness and capacities of learners and learning providers . Meanwhile , Mr.Munyinda emphasized that policies should be revised , so that students are all levels should be allowed to use mobile phones in school if we are to support M-learning.
The third speaker was Petrus Venter ,University of South Africa with a presentation entitled Online forums and mobile phones ….. Can these really drive student performance?
The speaker stated that Computers, multimedia and mobile technologies are at the forefront of the education environment. Educators are required to find and apply innovative ways to reach their students and to incorporate technologies into their course offerings. He cited some of the modes delivery of distance learning as correspondence, multimedia, telephone, flexible and intelligent (mobile phones used). He said that each one of these can be beneficial in a way but that concentration would be on whether mobile phones can drive student performance or not. He further stated that M-learning focuses on functionality and mobility , though the provision of education and training becomes a challenge due to limited functionality of mobile phones .He also said that there need to understand the difference between E-learning and traditional learning . However, he stated that E-learning combined with M-learning can be so beneficial and deliver recommendable results. Some of the benefits are: M-learning is more accessible, cost effective, immediate, convenient and reliable and synchronous.
“It is not technology with inherent pedagogical qualities that are successful, but technologies available.” Keegan (2005)
He further stated that online forums allows students to chat , participate in threaded discussions ,read and post blogs , this which help them to express their views , learn from others ,creating a better platform for knowledge sharing .Digital immigrants engage in several modes of online forums , print out emails , and digital natives have hypertext minds , use short attention spellings and focus on tools they use . This makes them to be motivated , highly value their education and increase their performance.
The speaker went on to highlight the results of their research. He said that their research indicated that the communication channels most valued by students, in order of preference, are:
1. Contact with lecturers via the myUnisa online student portal;
2. Mobile phone text messages received from lecturers;
3. Contact with other students via myUnisa online discussion forums;
4. Email contact with lecturers; and
5. Personal contact with lecturers.
He further presented the impact of online discussion forums and text messages as follows:
Online Discussion Forum
Software developers have responded to the need for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration between students and lecturers. Within Unisa, online forums are enabled through the open source learning collaboration platform Sakai, known as myUnisa. The discussion forum is only one of several tools available. Online forums are used to facilitate discussions between students and lecturers, and between students
The majority of the topics were initiated by the students themselves (78%). This is different to the experience with undergraduate students, where discussions tend to be initiated by lecturers. Many of the postings offered responses to questions by other students. What was remarkable is the fact that students created their own support units within the forum.
While online discussions are popular with students, and highly valued by them, the relationship between online student-to-student communication and student performance is not particularly clear.
Bulk text messages (sms) were used to notify students about new discussion topics on the online forum, changes in course matters, reminders about assignment due dates and motivational messages. This form of communication was initiated by lecturers. E-mail is also highly used, although this was one-on-one communication, typically initiated by students. At this stage, statistical results (see figure 1) appear to support the notion that students benefit more from electronic communication with lecturers than from student-to-student communication.
In conclusion, the speaker stated that their answer to the question if online forums and mobile technology drive performance appears to be affirmative, and they confirm that the use of online forums should be a planned event and not just left to chance for the students to initiate. In reflection, have the following recommendations:
It is important to encourage participation in the online forums by notifying students when a discussion is started. They found text messages to students to notify them of new discussions very valuable. Secondly, provide regular feedback on the forum. They have found that students often wait for the reassurance from the lecturer that they are on the right track. It is also important to address the student questions posed on the forum. For example: “Please could you advise me on my answer to this question, posted 06/10/09, please could you also tell me if I need more to the answer or less??” Thirdly, give praise where it is due, albeit for answering a question posed on the forum, or for peer collaboration – we have had several cases where a student assists a fellow student on the forum, without the intervention of the lecturer. Text messages are a valuable communication medium. However, the number of characters that can be used is 150. They e have learned the importance of always including the course code in the message. It is also useful to plan text messages in advance and to send these at regular intervals. The idea is not only to use it to communicate changes in assignment due dates or exam criteria, but to use it in motivating students during the semester.
The fourth speaker was Niall Winters, London Knowledge Lab,UK , with the presentation entitled Veterinary Training with Mobile phones : A case study from Zanzibar .
The speaker started his presentation with citing how learners use mobile phones , such as to actively create content e.g. images ,video,audio , be in constant communication with friends and their wider peer groups , and this technology is always with them unlike desktop computers .He further stated that mobile phones are not being used for disseminating content , but being used by learners as a tool for data collection , content creation, communication , while leveraging the affordance of the device . This helps them to be 21st Century learners
Some of the benefits in terms of tutor perspective on student learning are : tutors use this as a window on where students attention was , recording the process of reasoning skills development for each student . He further stated that mobile phones are high contributing in making ICT4D a reality, by providing a dual approach, building local capacities in Africa, highly supporting eLearning, building awareness on global issues e.t.c.
The fifth Speaker was Maja Braun, Deutsche Welle Radio, Germany , with the presentation entitled Learning by ear on the go-mobile edutainment for Africa.
In her presentation, the speaker stated that Deutsche Welle is delivering informal learning to the African communities through radio . She said that the programs delivered through this initiative are both educative and entertaining as well as authentic .They are educative and entertaining in the sense that they are in an educative and entertaining format radio dramas delivering information , and are authentic in the sense that they are authored by Africans , edited by Deutsche Welle and produced locally . The topics include : politics and society ;political participation ,economy and environment ; climate change ,health and social issues ; malaria , general knowledge ; African history . She said that these are distributed through several channels through short wave where there are listeners , others receive mails and SMS as a way of discussing programs , also delivered through partner stations on which also theatre competitions are done and through the internet ; the programs are downloadable cab be discussed through email . The mobile application is that these are compatible , usable, low budget , simple navigation and is in form of compressed data. http://www.dw-world/l.de
This clearly shows that mobile phones should used together with other ICT tools to yield better results in eLearning......
By Wandila Simon Kamukwape